Moving family drama ‘Crumbs From the Table of Joy’ unfolds at Everyman Theatre

The talented and capable cast give life to Lynn Nottage's astounding piece of art.

Bliss. Hope. Shock. Anger. Anguish. This is just a sprinkling of the emotions you may feel at Everyman Theatre while watching Crumbs From the Table of Joy, a beautifully crafted stage play set in 1950s Brooklyn. The award-winning playwright Lynn Nottage is well deserving of her accolades, and Director Reginald L. Douglas has crafted Nottage’s material into a touching production at Baltimore’s Everyman Theatre.

Crumbs From the Table of Joy gives voice to the Crump family as they migrate from the Jim Crow South to the dizzying North only to discover that frustration exists for people of color regardless of location. The play is told from the perspective of Ernestine Crump, a teenage girl reeling from the loss of her mother and living with a father who clings to faith while raising two teenage daughters in the midst of his own grief.

Deidre Staples (Ernestine Crump), Jefferson A. Russell (Godfrey Crump), and Mahkai Dominique (Ermina Crump) in ‘Crumbs From the Table of Joy.’ Photo by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Ernestine Crump, played by a funny, witty, and warm Deidre Staples, grounds the play. Staples embodies the difficulty of a teenage girl on an arduous journey to figure out who she is and what she wants. Ernestine finds solace in 1950s movies, where she is free to cry over the loss of her mother. When her Aunt Lily Ann Green arrives in the house, she is struck by the example of a Black woman as an outspoken free thinker.

Talentedly played by Myxolydia Tyler, Aunt Lily is the wild and worldly sister of Ernestine’s recently deceased mother. Her grace, style, and poise make you fall in love with her. Purely unabashed and refusing to give a solitary inch, she gives you every bit of her flawed and broken but passionate self. I kept thinking how I wanted to have an aunt like her. Her frustration was palpable while she tried to maintain an image of success and strength. Even through her lowest moments, she made vulnerability beautiful. She was what so many young Black girls wanted to be: sexy, confident, smart, and a fighter for a cause that really mattered (in this case, 1950s Communism). Her raw emotion and blatant lust for her former brother-in-law Godfrey will stir the fire within you.

Everyman company member Jefferson Russell deftly handles the complicated portrayal of Ernestine’s father, Godfrey Crump. Godfrey is what you would expect a Southern father to be in the 1950s. Protective of his daughters to the point of isolation, he doesn’t know how to cope with the loss of his wife so he turns to a cult-like preacher named Father Divine, who encourages him to parent through the three “V’s”: victory, virtue, and virginity. When it all comes crashing down, his response is jaw-dropping.

The cast is rounded out by an effortless Mahkai Dominique as younger sister Ermina and Katie Kleiger as the quirky Gerte Schulte.

TOP: Katie Kleiger (Gerte Schulte), Jefferson A. Russell (Godfrey Crump), and Deidre Staples (Ernestine Crump); ABOVE: Myxolydia Tyler (Lily Ann Green), and Mahkai Dominique (Ermina Crump), in ‘Crumbs From the Table of Joy.’ Photos by Teresa Castracane Photography.

Sound Designer Tosin Olufolabi grounds the play in snappy bebop that brings you into a simple but profound basement apartment in the middle of Brooklyn. I was tapping my feet in time to the soundtrack that made an indelible mark on the overall experience of the play. You can hear the vibrancy coursing through the city.

While the stage setup stays the same, Set Designer Daniel Ettinger along with Lighting Designer Harold Burgess II did a great job of making the pieces work for various scenes. You were effortlessly transported from a shabby basement apartment to a moving subway (cue flickering lights), a captivating movie theater, and even a neighborhood bar.

The underlying symbolism of the play was expertly embodied in two props, a stylish radio and the white graduation dress that Ernestine — the first member of her family to graduate from high school — sews throughout the play (costume design by Ivania Stack). The radio created such happiness that it was its own character. That radio allowed for connections to be made between a little Black girl and a German woman fresh to the shores of America. It allowed a frustrated aunt to revel in her passions and to share herself in all her glory with her nieces. It gave two young girls a chance to experience their new, urban world and to learn about life in the drowning cacophony of the city. It kept their mother in their lives, long after she returned to the earth in Pensacola, Florida.

And that simple, innocent, white graduation dress was a tangible symbol of naïve, unmitigated hope quietly existing in a place waiting to rip it apart. Even in its imperfection and silence, it spoke volumes. From the pattern chosen by a deceased mother to the antiquated lace stolen by a beloved sister, the crooked stitching was a secret reminder that there was still so much to learn. That white dress provided something to focus on, to work toward.

This play was a pleasure to watch unfold, and I am thankful to have witnessed the magic that happened. The talented and capable cast gave life to an astounding piece of art, and everyone should be proud of the work they have done.

Running Time: Two hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Crumbs From the Table of Joy plays through February 25, 2024, at Everyman Theatre, 315 West Fayette St., Baltimore, MD. Purchase tickets ($29–$39) online or contact the box office by phone at 410-752-2208 (Monday–Friday, 10 a.m.–4 p.m., and Saturday, 12-4 p.m.) or email [email protected].

Accessibility: Everyman emphasizes their commitment to accessibility for all, including those with economic challenges, with Pay What You Choose prices.

The cast and creative credits are online here (scroll down).

The digital program may be accessed here.

COVID Safety: Masks are encouraged, though not required. Everyman’s complete health and safety guide is here.


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